President Bush has deployed a "shadow government" - or contigency team - of senior civil servants to keep the nation running in case terrorists attack Washington with a nuclear weapon. The back-up measure was first deployed following the terrorist attacks of September 11.
About 100 senior civilian managers now live and work underground at two secure sites on the East Coast as part of the president's "Continuity of Operations" plan. They would be responsible for maintaining essential services if the federal government's top leaders were killed in a terrorist attack.
Speaking to workers in the midwest state of Iowa Friday, President Bush says he made the move after the terrorist attacks of September 11 because he says it is his responsibility to have these back-up measures in place to make sure the government keeps running. "We take the continuity of government issue very seriously because our nation was under attack," he said, "and I still take the threats we receive from al-Qaida killers and terrorists very seriously. I have an obligation as the president and my administration has an obiligation to the American people to put measures in place that should somebody be successful in attacking Washington, DC, there is an ongoing government."
The extraordinary measures are chiefly meant to guard against terrorists attacking Washington with a nuclear device. Officials say they are not reacting to any specific threats that terrorists have acquired nuclear weapons, but they believe the possibility is real enough to warrant continuing with this shadow government.
The plan includes only members of the executive branch with representatives from all cabinet posts and some key agencies. Congress and the judiciary have their own back-up plans to ensure that they continue to operate in the event of a catastrophic attack.
Senior managers working 90-day shifts at the underground facilities would protect food and water supplies, public health, and transportation links. They would also be charged with maintaining public order, communications, and energy supplies before reconstituting the federal government.
First deployed after the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, it has now become a more permanent part of what the administration calls "a new reality" in the war against terrorism.
Part of that "new reality" is that Vice President Dick Cheney is rarely seen with President Bush and is often kept at an undisclosed, secure location to ensure the continuation of executive power if something were to happen to the president. While Mr. Cheney would take control in that event, he could not run the country by himself. That is why this "shadow government" is in place, to make sure there is a core of civilian managers to keep the nation running.